Film Review: Mrs Caldicot’s Cabbage War

I know! A film review! Only a quick short one really.

Source: GoodSearch Images

Mrs Caldicot (Pauline Collins) has been kept under her husband’s thumb for years so when he dies, she thinks she has the perfect chance to become independent. Her son (Peter Capaldi, long before Doctor Who) and daughter-in-law however force her into a retirement home where she is drugged to keep quiet and forced to sign over her house to her son. However, when the drugs wear off, she incites revolution among her fellow inmates, leading to her to discovering her fire and creating more change than she anticipated.

This British film does not sound like it is going to be particularly entertaining at first however Pauline Collins soon warms you up, getting the audience to relate to the character through the themes of finding independence and fighting against a system that is wrong through, initially, small acts. Capaldi is wonderful in his role of the manipulative son (attack eyebrows included), with fellow Doctor Who star Annette Badland as the homes cook and Tony Robinson of Time Team fame as chat show host, Nick Reid. There are some laugh out loud moments, mixed in with warm moments whilst also asking questions about the treatment of our aged and elderly that are as relevant today as they were back in 2002 when the film was made.

It’s not exactly a film that would grace TV’s at prime time and is more suited to a quiet Sunday with the family to curl up and enjoy. Not all plot lines I feel are tied up, the ending comes out of nowhere and character development, away from Mrs Caldicot, is minimal, if any happens at all. It certainly could draw lessons from fellow Brit comedy-drama Keeping Mum, which also features a lot of British talent. Some fleshing out and rewriting was needed in places. Unfortunately, this does let down an otherwise funny, warm film.

Definitely a film to curl up with a slow day but certainly not the best. I know I, at least, would rather watch Keeping Mum or Call the Midwife over this.

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Book Review: Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

I want to preface this review now with my opinion is purely that: my opinion!

Farfield is a town divided between the North and the South.

On North side is the American Ellis family. Daughter Brittany appears for all the world the perfect all-American girl. Blonde hair, designer clothes, head cheerleader and dating a footballer. But it is all a façade. At home, things are not perfect with a often absent father, a mother on the edge and an older disabled sister who uses a wheelchair.

On the South side is the Mexican Fuentes family. Alex lives with his hard-working mother and brothers Carlos and Luis. To the outside world, Alex is THE bad boy, playing up his Latino Blood gang membership however this is Alex’s own mask. He is intelligent and could go far, if he was able to get out of the gang and still protect his family.

When Brittany and Alex are put together for a Chemistry project, sparks fly and the appearances that each of them put on begin to slip…

I will say it now. This book is so bad it’s good. Before I go on to why it’s so bad, I want to point out the good elements that actually made me read this cover to cover.

Elkeles uses the first person narration of each character to give both sides of the story and show the world of Farfield through the characters eyes very vividly. She shows the extreme differences in the fictional town as well as the big differences in the  characters worlds. But within that is also the juxtaposition that actually the characters are very similar. They have their family troubles whether caused by internal or external forces and each character must put on an act.

Because of the first person perspective, the readers gain a real insight on the characters instead of having their views on characters heavily influenced by others. This book definitely would not have worked as well if the story had been told from the third person.

On the subject of worlds, Elkeles  has really shown a strong and colourful understanding of Mexican culture, the protective nature of families and the close-knit community, minus the gang part. The research she put into the book really shows and something to be praised. (I don’t know if all the Spanish is correct as my own is very limited so I can’t really say if it is right).

The book also shows a real, positive representation of a person with disability. The sisterly bond between Brittany and Shelley, her sister, is touching and lovingly portrayed. The book also shows the struggles of a modern family with a disabled child. The act put on by Brittany’s parents to hide Shelley as well as the pressure they place on Brittany to do the same is very interesting and really makes the reader invest in this characters, wanting to see the sisters triumph against their parents’ act and no longer have to hide from the world.

Elkeles could have portrayed the character in a very dim light, showing the character as stupid and being completely unable to understand anything but instead it is a bright light that is put on Shelley, showing her as intelligent and perfectly able to make her own informed choices on matters about her.  The only other positive representation of disability I have seen lately, that also shows these traits in such characters, has been in Episode 5 of Call the Midwife.

Sadly, these are the only real positives I have found in the book.

The good writing and character portrayals is seriously hampered by the seriously clichéd characters and story.

Let’s start with the characters.

Of course the boy is in a minority group (Mexican) and is a gangbanger. He is also mixed up with the rougher people in society and gets into trouble with drugs and the police. He’s only dating her for a bet but oh, he really loves her so changes himself enough to be with her.

Of course the girl is the typical blonde, smart cheerleader who’s dating the football star. She breaks up with him for the boy from across the tracks who she must hide from her family, friends and society. Eventually, when he changes, she is able to go out with him freely in public!

I also have an issue with Brittany’s name. Why is the stereotypical blonde, cheerleading captain called Brittany? Why? It just feels so overused that the character has become almost the symbol of the American school system and must be used when a writer writes a story set in the classic American high school setting.

Plus, why do they meet in a Chemistry class? Why do the characters have to meet like that? I was having serious Twilight flashbacks at that point.

Really? Does the world really need this story AGAIN?! I realise that it is said there are only 7 stories in the world and it is how we dress them up that we create a new twist on that story but it feels like Elkeles tried in some areas of the book but not in others. Unfortunately, it is in arguably the two most important areas of a book that got neglected badly: the story and the characters.

I feel she had a real chance to do a great twist on the genre, challenging the stereotypes and the traditional codes and conventions that have come to epitomise the teen romance genre.

The only way the story could have been improved is if she had scrapped it completely and done something else by allowing the characters to lead. Why not have the girl as the Mexican or another minority and the boy as maybe an invisible geek who sits in the back of the class? What would happen when these two came together?

Having spoken to a friend of mine in the USA about the chemistry class plot point, they told me that joint assignments take place in other classes, like English. Providing it wasn’t a clichéd romance book or even Shakespeare play, maybe the characters could have met there or another class or maybe even outside of school! Do American teenagers lives really completely revolve around high school?

Whilst I had Twilight flashbacks during the chemistry class scenes, throughout much of the book, I also couldn’t help thinking of the Bring It On: All Or Nothing film. The film and this book were almost identical in the main staples of the story and characters.

I also feel that the epilogue was completely unnecessary. There was enough closure in the ending of the previous chapter but open-ended enough that it left the readers able to make up their own ideas of what happened next. The epilogue robs the readers of that and seems to be restarting the story again unneeded.

Problem is, Elkeles is a good writer. She chose the right point of view for the book, creates a town that feels so real, the reader could go there, gives an excellent portrayal of the Mexican people, culture and community and represents disability in such a brilliant way and positive light. It’s with these elements of the book that she manages to hook her audience, makes the readers become emotionally invested in the characters so that, despite all the horrible clichés, the reader keeps on reading to the last page.

It’s because of this that I feel the book is annoyingly addictive and I hope vindicates my view that the book is so bad, it’s good! I’m not sure I would recommend this book necessarily to someone who is experienced with the genre but as a starting point, I think it is a good introduction for new readers to the genre. It has all the stereotypes, the codes and conventions and every last little thing someone would expect from a Young Adult Romance book. For a writer, I think it’s a good book to look at to learn those very same things and to get a grounding in the genre before they start writing their own stories.

The Hunger Games, Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Finished this novel a few days ago but events at home have prevented me from posting the review until tonight.

Panem is at war.

The districts are in revolt. The Capitol is fighting to regain control  and has Peeta Mellark prisoner, using him for their own means. District 13 is trying to turn Katniss Everdeen, survivor of two Hunger Games, into the Mockingjay. Katniss is reeling from the revelations that she has been a pawn in plans laid down by everyone around her and finds herself questioning who to trust.

Kept busy initially with doing propaganda work for the rebels, she eventually manages to persuade the rebel leaders to give her the chance to actually fight in the revolution and takes it with both hands.

Katniss’s goal? To bring down the oppressive rule of Panem and kill President Snow.

The third book in the series brings the curtain down on the story brilliant, tying up loose ends and keeping the reader glued from start to finish. It shows not just the war but the things that happen behind the scenes: the war councils, the tactical discussions and the creation of propaganda. The book also shows the effects of war on  civilian people in their civilian life in their civilian homes. This happens in District 13 but is especially emphasised I think in the Capitol, with people becoming refugees, having been displaced from their homes, and others being forced to take those people in. I couldn’t help thinking it almost mirrored the billeting of evacuees in the Second World War. Think Goodnight Mr Tom and you get an idea of what I am talking about.

This book does seem more bloody than the others, especially considering the level of violence in all three books. This feeling is accentuated by certain major events, again, near the end of the book. Certainly, this is not bad thing I don’t think as it actually makes sure the book, story and the series makes a lasting impact on the reader and forces them to think.

For the most part, the limited first person narration is perfect for the story however, near the end, there were some events that I feel could have benefited from being in third person so being elaborated on. I think those events would actually make for a great short story and/or spin-off novella. I am not going to say what as I don’t want to give away any spoilers.

There were parts which seemed rushed or just skipped over which could also have been elaborated on and it felt like that Collins decided to use the hospital almost as a way of setting things back to default. Rowling used this as well near the end of the Harry Potter novels but it made Mockingjay feel very episodic by bringing it constantly back to the hospital. I feel it was unneeded and better plotting of the novel could easily have avoided this.

Mockingjay is brilliant book to finish the series, despite it’s issues, showing sensibility, tact and raising issues about the effects of war on people. It makes the reader think about what they are reading and consider the earlier books in light of events in this book, something that rarely seems to happen in modern day novels.  Whilst it perhaps could not be read as a stand alone, it has an excellent story that breaks away from the almost formulaic plotting of the previous two books and keeps the reader’s attention from start to finish.

Film Review: Keeping Mum

I’ve been looking forward to being finally able to review this film. It’s one of those film that I always seem to miss the first bit of when ever it is on Film4.

The little village of Little Wallop is your typical English village but Gloria Goodfellow (Kristin Scott Thomas) is going crazy.

Her vicar husband, Walter Goodfellow (Rowan Atkinson), is so obsessed with writing the perfect sermon, he is completely ignoring his wife, who is having an affair with her American golf instructor Lance (Patrick Swayze). His seventeen year old nymphomaniac daughter Holly (Tamsin Egerton) has a different boyfriend every week and his son Petey (Toby Parkes) is the victim of school bullies.

Gloria is praying for a miracle when a new housekeeper arrives. Sweet old lady Grace (Maggie Smith) is the answer to all Gloria’s prayers. She has a unique way of keeping house and even more unique way of dealing with problems.

This is a great British comedy with an all-star cast with some brilliant laugh out loud moments. The film shows off the best in British talent from the actors in front of the camera and the people behind it. The script is a great example of British wit and humour whilst the film locations, in Cornwall and on the Isle of Wight, shows just how beautiful the English countryside can be, away from the city streets that seem to be the norm. It draws the audience in right from the start and keeps them entertained from start to finish.

This is a comedy film but Atkinson shows he is capable of carrying off a very serious role away from his iconic bumbling Mr Bean character whilst Smith, who is normally seen in rather staid roles such as Professor McGonagall in the Harry Potter franchise, is perfect as the fun and very British Grace who seems to always be looking for a good cup of tea.

The film features a lot of sexual references, nudity and some strong language and whilst overt, it does not detract from the film. It is however a good reason why the BBFC rated this film as a 15. I would not recommend watching this film with young kids around as this is not a Jacqueline Wilson type of story, who has a book by the same name. It is slow in places but it does succeed in keeping its audience even then with other elements.

This is a great film to enjoy for a night in, whether alone or with friends and will leave you giggling, laughing and at least smiling through out. Whilst it won’t have you holding your sides or anything like that, it is great fun, with a wonderfully British feel to it.